Lutz describes some eyebrow-raising tactics Maxie -- as he calls him -- Hoffman used when approached about giving up the BMW contract: "He wanted to point out that some of BMW's best customers were important Italian families who favored big sedans, and if something happened to me -- heaven forbid."
It didn't faze Lutz, a former U.S. Marine Corps pilot who moved on to executive positions in the United States at Ford Motor Co., the former Chrysler Corp. and General Motors, where he was vice chairman before retiring in 2010.
In the end, Hoffman relinquished the import business after a court fight with BMW. "It took a lot of money, but we finally got rid of him," said Lutz.
While dealing with Hoffman, BMW also was setting up a U.S. headquarters in Montvale, N.J. Lutz also had a hand in tailoring a new advertising tag line for BMW in the United States, which the brand still uses: "The Ultimate Driving Machine."
Germany was using the tag line "Aus Freude Am Fahren" and wanted the literal translation of "The Joy of Driving."
Lutz said he nixed the idea, arguing "it does not do for us what we want to convey about a technologically superior car. "Machine' rather than "car' conveys a sense of substance under style and solid engineering."
When BMW, on the advice of U.S. consultants, wanted to remove the black ring around its now iconic logo, Lutz said he again argued against it.
The early BMWs in the '60s and '70s were designed by Bertone, the Italian automotive design house. "Then BMW and Bertone would do the body engineering together, but the basic design was Italian," Lutz said.
BMW decided to design the successor to the 2002 -- the first 3 series -- in-house. "They had one designer, and he reported to body engineering, and they adopted solutions that were easiest to engineer," Lutz said.
"When I got there, my guy said, "We hope you get to styling and see the model for the replacement of the 2002. It is so bad that we would rather keep the current one,'" Lutz said.
"I looked, and it was awful. I got the company to cancel it and to start over. It was the first 3 series."
The first 3 series copied elements from GM. "The protruding nostrils were a GM design theme at the time, with the center of the grille standing forward from the rest of the grille," Lutz said.
And BMW wanted to remove the kidneys -- a now iconic part of its face -- and replace them "with an open grille like any American car with horizontal bars," Lutz said.
"The fact that a person like me had to prevent them from doing things like that tells you about the competence of senior management."